Bright. Young. Things.

Bishopstoke Players Durley Memorial Hall, Durley David Cradduck 16 May 2024

Not being a great fan of reality TV generally, and of ‘talent’ shows in particular, that encourage hitherto unknowns to participate with the promise of a chance to win fame and fortune, I read the synopsis of Bright. Young. Things. (yes, the full stops are deliberately there in the title) with intrigue. I’ve seen the show-within-a-show theme many times but this one is a bit different: it deals, a little Ayckborne-like, with many modern-day problems like mental health, sibling rivalry, the pressure to succeed where others must fail, the pros and cons of being competitive, estrangement, loneliness, egotism and greed.

At the same time, it manages to have more than its fair share of laughs and is often at its funniest when at its darkest.

A word about the author, Georgia Christou: in an interview, she says “We’ve all watched too much X Factor, me more than most. But here’s the boring truth of it – most people who you see on the telly or who have their names on books or plays or whatever have tried. And failed.” As a one-time out-of-work graduate from drama school, she’s been there and speaks from experience. Her motivation for writing Bright. Young. Things. was simple. In another interview she says “With the popularity of reality TV, I think there’s a dangerous myth about being ‘found’; that you’re on a supermarket checkout one day and then the next you’re going to be discovered and all your problems will melt away”.

And there’s none so affected by the magnet of TV fame as youngsters. They are easy prey for manipulative programme makers, ambitious parents and even themselves.

Bishopstoke Players’ present choice of play is more about inclusion and finding the right vehicle to suit the cast available to them. This is the second production I have seen of theirs and each time I couldn’t help but be struck by the sense of family, of community, of several generations all putting together an evening’s entertainment and having huge fun on the way, regardless of age or ability.

With that in mind, director Pete Burton has echoed his love of the “family feel” (his words) in the way that he has cast and staged this tricky piece. I say tricky, because, on the surface, the synopsis is six very brainy children, carefully selected through a strenuous auditioning process, go to the glitzy TV studios to be filmed, live, in a knock-out competition to be crowned ‘Britain’s Brainiest Child’ and win the coveted Golden Brain Trophy. But beneath the surface, it’s a different story: with each round, the competition gets harder, pressure builds and the contestants are confronted with more challenges than just getting the answers right. It becomes apparent in the second act that the rigorous selection process is a sham, and the contestants have shamefully been selected for their personality traits (‘loser’, ‘underdog’, etc) – to make good TV.

The cast of 15 (the six young contestants, two old-school judges and seven adults) interact with each other skillfully. Partly due to a carefully crafted script and partly down to the skill of the individual actors, the ensemble works really well and there are some extremely funny, as well as touchingly poignant moments during the 21 short scenes which mainly alternate between the TV studio with its larger than life presenters (Kimberley Jones and Tim Ponsford doing some very effective to-camera, American TV presenter-style performances) and the backstage goings-on where real life and personal issues threaten to derail the whole show.

The six young protagonists, aged between nine and 15, have been cast well and each brings their own interpretation to the roles: there are the twins, Sheara and Jasmine (touchingly portrayed by Amber Bailey and Esme Millins) who have been ‘head to head’ all their lives, have been dressed the same and treated as a unit by others, as well as themselves and their well-meaning parents, all their young lives.  The competition proves to be the blue touch paper to ignite their frustrations of being in competition with each other and yet so close. The only boy, poor old Bernie, the mathematical genius with no friends and a burning ambition to be in a musical, is played with great insight by Dylan Smith. His out-of-character air guitar and vocals rendition of Freddie Mercury’s ‘We Will Rock You’ is brilliant, accompanied by the other foot-stomping youngsters.

Hester, dependent on the security of her rabbit’s foot and whose bravado wilts under pressure is played convincingly by Molly Smith, last seen playing the title role in Dick Whittington. Ella Cannavo confidently portrays the stand-in contestant Rochelle, who is seemingly only in the competition because her dad is a cleaner at the studio and she comes along with him when he’s called in.

Last of the youngsters, but certainly not least, is Effie Flynn, the youngest and smallest of the cast touchingly playing a remarkably streetwise and laid-back Amber, the first of the contestants to be knocked out of the competition.

There are some great supporting roles from the adults but the two standout performances have to go to Kate Robbins and James Gould as the most obnoxious, pretentious and cynical TV producers you might ever have the misfortune to meet. Smiling with insincerity and posing from the start, these two perform an outrageous double act from start to finish with professional timing, stage presence and some deliberately dubious accents and affectations. That includes them conducting the raffle in the interval with much spontaneous adlibbing and hilarity. My only gripe is that, like the panto I saw in January, the 15-minute interval with the raffle drawn in that period, doubles in time to over 30 minutes and threatens to exceed the length of the first act.

Staging is simple – a predominantly black background with BYT letters picked out in lights, with a group of simple coloured blocks on stage to provide colour, the contestants’ podia and even act as sound boxes. Lighting and sound are both excellent – a trigger warning pinned to the door advises ‘flashing lights and loud bangs’, although on occasions the cast struggle to make themselves heard over the effects. Use of the real audience as an interactive, live studio audience by the presenters works well and provides the opportunity for a little adlibbing.

This is, without doubt, an entertaining piece which luckily provides not just a chance for a varied age cast to enjoy this funny and fast-paced show but is also a multi-layered and thought-provoking swipe at what is an extremely popular medium. Well done, Bishopstoke Players, for an undoubtedly successful show on many levels.

Bright. Young. Things. continues at Durley Memorial Hall until Saturday 18th May and tickets/info can be found at